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Gun Control

Gun Control

by Marco M. Pardi

DISCLOSURE:

I have been a gun owner since age 15. As a highly trained professional I carried various firearms for years. I currently have, and regularly use a Concealed Carry license.

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Some people like to say gun control is using both hands. Cute. But on a serious note, I am a strong advocate of gun control, as I will spell out below. I am also serious about getting guns out of the wrong hands. When I read or see television coverage of, say, two drug dealers shooting each other to death in a deal gone bad my reaction is: Two down, more to go. When I read of an armed robber shot dead by an armed citizen in a convenience store, or a home invader shot dead by the home owner it’s, Hooray for our side. And when a trophy hunter gets stomped by an elephant or munched by a lion or bear, it’s three cheers for the home team. You get the idea.

But I am also appalled by the very obvious poor training “sworn professionals” receive. The media are filled with examples of police officers using their firearms inappropriately, usually with fatal consequences. Less obvious are the risks one runs in going to a neighborhood shooting range. I’ve seen too many examples of inadequate or absent firearms safety and oversight, including among police officers. One can only wonder at the general civilian population and their capacity to safely handle firearms.

Having said all that, the United States have a problem with firearms. One sector of the population holds up the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as if the hand of God wrote it. Never mind that the Republican owned Supreme Court chose to overlook the part about “a well regulated militia”. Another sector, quite likely the majority, wants much more control over guns.

But control over guns is not the only answer, or even the best answer. There are already literally millions of guns in private hands. Imposing controls on the further distribution of guns, especially certain types such as “military style assault weapons” is a visible and partially effective measure. The production and sale of “assault weapons” should be banned. These are fantasy weapons, for adult children who want to play soldier; none of them are approved for military issue and use and only an idiot would keep one for “home defense” or hunting. But, I have some additional suggestions:

  1. Just as we license drivers, we must license all gun owners. The purchase of any firearm, of any kind, would require a license. This would be dependent upon successful completion of a thorough background check and a firearms safety course, paid for by the prospective gun owner. This license must be renewed every five years, all costs borne by the owner.
  2. So how do we enforce this? Enact federal law that no ammunition, of any kind or caliber, can be sold without the licensed seller verifying that the purchaser has a valid and current license. A firearm without ammunition is just an expensive paper weight.
  3. Extend these laws to private sales. Gunshows are highly valued by people wanting to get around background checks. One can go into a gun show, approach a dealer or a private individual who has rented a booth, and “step outside the show” for an unregistered purchase of a gun seen inside the show. So, specify that violation of the federal law banning the sale of a firearm or ammunition to an unlicensed individual carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
      1. There is a significant home industry in re-loading

        ammunition. Subject the sale of equipment and supplies, such as bullets, primers, and propellants to the same licensing requirement spelled out above.

      2. There is a growing interest in and ability to fabricate firearms from synthetic materials by using 3-D printers. Declare the manufacture, possession, or sale of these firearms to be illegal under federal law and carrying a mandatory prison sentence.

Many readers will say these measures do not address the problem of so many guns and so much ammunition already out there. That is largely true. But it is completely true that going apartment to apartment and house to house to register or confiscate these materials is out of the question. Would you like to do it? I bet not. Instead, we are faced with the classic Pig in the Python, the pig being the ammunition and the python being the guns. As the existing ammunition is used the pig moves through the python coming out the other end as useless shell casings. When people use all their ammunition and find they cannot acquire more without a thorough background check and license the frequency of use will decline. Eventually, if the laws are enforced, the problem will solve itself. Some people may dislike that word “eventually”. Welcome to the real world.

For now, the “real” world of America is the unreal world generated by Hollywood and fiction books. It is the armed frontiersman, the itinerant armed cowboy on the ever present horse, the homesteaders who are crack shots. Of course, none of these ever seems to run out of ammunition. The 2nd Amendment was written during the times of flintlock muskets. It had a very specific political goal in mind, and it had specific conditions attached. Contrast that with National Rifle Association practices which enroll children as young as six and place little or no limits on the types of available firearms.

Some people will say my suggestions are Draconian and will hurt the responsible gun owners. Let me personally assure you of something: Getting shot hurts a lot worse.

I’ve kept this entry short because I do not want to turn away the reader with arcane discussions about weapons technology or Byzantine legal systems. I also hope that, since it is short but to the point, readers will take the initiative to respond.

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No Refills

                                                  No Refills

                                         by Marco M. Pardi

There are no second chances” Anon.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

Some casual restaurants I’ve been in have menus specifying a no refill policy on drinks. A second drink must be ordered. While that may strike some as rude, I see it as an existential reminder. We can’t just go back and do it over again.

For perhaps the first half of my life the idea of going back and re-living some period was unimportant and not nearly as interesting as whatever would come next. On those occasions when I thought for a moment about possible past mistakes I stared ahead convinced my future actions would greatly eclipse any troubled past. Yet, it seems what is commonly said about aging – an increasing frequency of looking back and wondering what could have been done differently, is true. After all, we have far more behind us than ahead of us.

But every time I’m asked (and there are few of those since I rarely talk with anyone) what I would have done differently I remember when and why I lost confidence in the scientific method: A carefully repeated experiment should yield the same results every time. In fact, it does not; it yields only a macro approximation of the same results. It fails to account for quantum variations. In fact, the well known observer effect ensures no second iteration will truly replicate the original; the second, or third, or whatever experimenter already knows the results of the original experiment and, through a mechanism still not completely understood, skews the outcome of his experiment toward the expected result. The best that can be done is a thoroughly blinded experiment (the original results are hidden). But this, too, presumes the quantum state is “the same”.

When asked what they would have done differently in their lives many people preface their response with, “Knowing what I know now…”. Obviously, that in no way addresses the question of doing things over again. There is no “do-over” unless the entire cosmos does it with you. And then, how would you know? There are hypotheses in modern physics that we continuously repeat each instant, on an endless loop. If so, I sure as hell don’t want to know it.

How about experiencing a special moment again? For better or worse I have a very vivid memory of many, if not most events in my life. I clearly remember the night my daughter was born. Her mother had been in labor for close to 24 hours, I had unknowingly rubbed the small of her back raw. I repeatedly told the nurses the baby was likely a transverse arrest but they could not get the doctor to leave his dinner party and come to the hospital. The doctor finally showed up and I told him the same thing. He looked at me and said, “I have the degree, you don’t”. Moments later he yelled, “Transverse arrest” and rushed my wife into a gruesome surgery which damaged nerves throughout her right leg and caused my daughter to be born with eyes that looked like two deep red grapes. He lost his license soon thereafter.

But what might have been a traumatic event instantly became the transformative event in my life when I first set eyes on my daughter. I had “known” since age 12 I would have a daughter; I had not even considered a name for a male child. In the first instant I saw her the Past disappeared; only she was there. In that instant the Present disappeared; only she was there. And, though the future was more inviting than ever, only she was there. Never before or since have I felt so utterly filled with love.

Now, 47 years later, when I look at her I see the toddler scrambling about in Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, the little girl carrying an uncomplaining cat in a cringe worthy position, defiantly mastering a bike without training wheels, graduating with highest honors from one school after another, and walking down the aisle with me, beneath a white veil. I have to consciously remind myself she is an adult woman and not a montage of countless scenes throughout life. Rightly or wrongly I have always felt I could never recapture that in another child.

After losing physical custody in a hard fought battle I expressed my deep dismay to someone I thought close to me. The reply: “Make another.” I ended that relationship that day.

Another timeless event occurred while I had some spare moments in the Fourth Arrondissement and ducked into Notre Dame cathedral to escape the hot sun. I was aware of the architectural theory underlying Gothic churches: the layout should resemble the human female reproductive anatomy, from the peaked arches of the entrance (labia majora) to the inner doors (labia minora) to the central aisle flanked by pews or chairs (vagina) to the two small divergent aisles and chapels (fallopian tubes and ovaries) and finally to the restricted sanctum (uterus) behind the communion rail where the Mass, particularly the transubstantiation, the change from earthly to divine substance was performed.

Many people assume the floor plan of early and medieval churches is based on the Christian cross. Modern analysis clarifies this: Romans crucified on a T, not a cross; the Christian cross almost certainly derives from the Egyptian Ankh, itself a symbol of eternal life and rebirth as exemplified in the reproductive system of the human female which it models. Modern scholarship is increasingly uncovering the Egyptian roots of much of Christian symbolism and iconography. But we are unlikely to see a refill of that.

I’m not a believer in a god. Nor do I know how much time I passed in Notre Dame. I do know I sat transfixed by the immense North Rosette window. It was as if I had been carried back through life and all that was small and materially real was on this side of the window while all that was immensely and truly real was just beyond my reach outside this window. Shining. Inviting. Just like the perfectly stained and placed pieces of glass, everything in the universe, especially concepts of past, present and future, was in its place, with no need of my help but my presence was some mysterious part of it.

As is always the case, no amount of return trips ever refilled that awe. I could not “Make another.”

But what about those bad moments, those moments we feel doomed to live over and over again? Going through the coverage of the latest school mass shooting I have not seen any mention of this but, after decades of dealing with people and traumatic events I am sure there are still those who counsel “Forget it. Put it out of your mind. Find something else to do.”

That is exactly the wrong thing to say, and the wrong thing to do. Like it or not that glass is broken. It cannot be refilled with a past that was before the incident. Those survivors, young or old, must remember so as to understand the profound and dynamic element which has been irremediably implanted into their evolving personas. Without that clear memory, and without the continuous but carefully metered process of analyzing how that memory of a “past” event is a dynamic part of their “present” life they will not understand the sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle ways these memories drive their behaviors toward themselves and others. We’ve become too accustomed to softening reality with euphemisms. People no longer die, they pass away. Of course, the implication is they pass into some other form, retaining their persona all the while. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. What we do know is they aren’t moving on their own, and we will either have to move them or move ourselves pretty soon.

We have become too accustomed to the extreme outcomes from PTSD, the suicides, the violence against others, the substance abuse and addiction. And so we miss the subtle influences and changes in a person’s make-up and behavior. I grew up with the influences of all out war shaping my family’s view of the world and how we should live. We lived through it in WWII Italy. Included in those influences was the overall view I held toward casualties, including children and those less able or unable to care for and protect themselves. I had a Yeah, that happens in war attitude toward those casualties. Years of exposure to television ads for relief of starving and sick children in various parts of the world only re-enforced my view that, Yeah, some people are lucky and some people aren’t.

What I did not realize, until the slaughter of first and second graders at Sandy Hook, was how deeply the birth of my daughter had affected me. To this day I cannot see the video of the children filing away from the school, hands on the shoulders of those in front of them, expressions of terror on their faces, without seeing my daughter at that age and wanting to rush in and wrap them in safety. The first time I saw the video and felt that all encompassing drive I came to realize I must be feeling empathy. That glass had never been sampled in this way, if at all. Now, I find myself hard pressed to hold my emotions as I watch coverage of people who have lost their children to one mishap, murder, or senseless carelessness after another. I see the children pulled bloodied from bombed and gassed buildings in the Middle East and want to stop the senseless violence. Yet, I’ve never had a thought for the terror expressed by my older brother as we listened for errant bombers over our supposedly “Open city” in Italy. Years after the war was officially over and we were in the U.S. he still hid himself when airplanes flew over our home to and from the airport.

I see children going hungry and wasting from nutrition related diseases while we as a nation throw out tons of food daily. I see children in desperate poverty largely brought on by religious intolerance of contraception. And, I dare not start on the abuses we heap on our non-human co-inhabitants of this demented world.

So, at times I worry I’ve become the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, with buckets of empathy spilling over and refilling themselves beyond my ability to control. I apparently have a deep reservoir of frustration. And each passing day I might for a moment feel it has emptied itself. But then, it refills when I allow my attention to focus on our reality.

Imaginary Friends

                                      Imaginary Friends

                                                       by Marco M. Pardi

A friend is a second self” Aristotle.

All comments are welcome, and will receive a response.

Everything I’ve read about early childhood development indicates having an imaginary friend, or friends, is normal. Normal? Although certainly a candidate for such a phenomenon, I never had an imaginary friend. Wow, talk about getting picked last for the team, or not at all. But, the whole Cosmos?

So, I learned about this later in life, like I learned that many people dream in black and white. Surely these must be people who didn’t have color tv?

I also learned some people talk in their sleep. Long ago and far away, on a bona fide Category 1 Alert, I had to temporarily bunk with two other guys. That made for really crowded quarters but, working solo and only at night I was on a different schedule. Quietly preparing to leave for duty late one night I noticed that one of the two sleeping guys was mumbling something. I was certain he was asleep but I engaged him with a question. As he answered, the other guy started talking, answering the comments the first guy made in response to my question. Curious, I coached a bit more and by the time I quietly left they were in conversation with each other. I was positive then, and now, they were asleep. The next day they each said they remembered nothing of it.

I think the term friend is applied too easily and has been for long before Facebook. How many times have you heard someone referring to a friend of theirs and, when you asked the name, they said, Uh, I can’t remember just now? What about this person qualified them for the category Friend? I think the term acquaintance is not only more appropriate, but more likely accurate. Yes, I realize that word is multi-syllabic and therefore too inconvenient for many. In a society fueled by grunts it is unlikely to gain currency.

Some years ago I worked with a man who told me he had a girlfriend for sex and a girlfriend for intelligent conversation. So I asked him, Where does your wife fit in all of this? His answer: Oh, you know. Family, kids and all that. Of course, it’s also too easy to presume that every relative is a friend. When facing pressure to attend a relative’s party or other function I have long been in the habit of asking myself, If this person were not a relative, would I have them as a friend? It’s interesting to see how the balance of answers plays out.

I was reminded of those two sleep talkers when I visited a cousin at his home in Newport, Rhode Island. This guy is a relative and a friend, though he and I both seem to understand we can take just so much of each other. Short visits are best.

Several of us gathered before dinner in his upstairs drawing room filled floor to ceiling with centuries of art and antiques mostly from Central and Eastern Europe. Watching everyone settle their modern physiques into ancient furniture, my gaze fell upon a “something in this picture doesn’t belong” object. It seemed to be a truncated plastic cone sitting on a table probably once owned by some moustachioed potentate. As I was about to ask the provenance of this exquisite object my cousin said, “Alexa….” and asked “her” to play Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto in B Flat Minor. A very lovely voice agreed to do this and in an instant we were transported. Thereafter I found it was possible to engage Alexa in basic conversations. You just have to know how to appropriately phrase questions and statements; a bit like conversing with a stranger.

Still warm inside from that marvelous voice, I found that Google had come out with a similar device. Of course, my first thought was to get them both in a room and try to get them talking to each other. Admittedly, my inspiration came not simply from the sleep talkers cited above, but largely from Alan Turing. The polymath who spear headed the cracking of the German Enigma code, Turing is also considered by many to be the father of the modern computer. Turing’s central dream, before he was driven to take his own life, was to develop a computer of such sophistication that a human, in a blinded test, would be unable to determine if he was communicating with another person or with a machine. Some readers will recognize this as a central theme in the recent television re-make of Westworld. Much attention in the series is placed on the cosmetics, the human appearance and movement of the cyborgs. More on that later, but my focus is on whether the software in the Amazon device and the Google device could be tweaked such that placing them in the same room we could present each of them with the Turing test; could we ask them to tell us if they are communicating with a human or with a computer. Could they become friends? Would they argue? (Of course, a chaperone would be present to prevent untoward outcomes like little plastic devices popping out all over the room.)

The possibility that one plus one might equal more than two got me scanning my bookcases for Ray Kurzweil’s book, The Singularity is Near. A dense but readable tome, Kurzweil outlines and explains how we, albeit unknowingly, have marched to the edge of a new domain in which the equation will be reversed: Machines which had hitherto accepted instructions from Man and existed only as products of Man begin issuing their own instructions, including to Man, and begin constructing their own machines with intelligence and capabilities beyond our ability to understand. I have long thought many of us are already there. An avid fan and owner of sports/racing cars since my teens, I continually marveled at acquaintances who had no idea what happens between the ignition key and the wheels. “Somebody does” seemed to be the dismissive answer.

But to be frank, I have little to no idea what happens between my keyboard and the monitor I’m watching. By the way, I never went to secretarial school so I’m a few finger typer and I have to look at the keys, pausing to see if what I think I’ve (written?) makes sense. With voice command software I wonder if I could get Alexa to write my blog for me, or would it be far too atmospheric for the meager 3 pound jelly bean in my skull. Would you be able to tell?

Getting back to the perfectly realistic androids of West World, Japan has made amazing advances in this area, even developing a sex android that enables the user to simulate rape. Should that be off the market, or should it be considered a deterrent, a kind of release valve for those who would rape humans in its absence?

I’m well beyond the age where a mere assemblage of parts inspires me to do the Hokey Pokey. But I never considered that a basis for friendship anyway. What Kurzweil predicts is an autonomous (mind?) of such capacity as to leave me standing with ignition key in hand asking, What do I do now? Now THAT is exciting. But of course, we all know of the advent of self-driving cars. My question is: What happens when my car gets mad at me, perhaps for leering at the Aston Martin in the next lane?

As for looks, we’ve all heard someone say, Looks don’t matter. I’m not pushing Beauty and the Beast but I am seriously doubtful that that statement has no limits. But the age old question applies: What do you see in that person? I’ve had some friends, and still do. They are a very tiny percentage of my acquaintances. But this tiny percentage spans a rather large spectrum of easily apparent traits. The common denominator among these friends is a profoundly intellectual mind, the secret in plain sight. Over the years I’ve not been at all surprised when some acquaintances and certain relatives dismissed my friends as strange or out for something. Physically attractive female friends were dismissed as passing sex interests. Obviously, it takes a mind to recognize a mind.

If completely autonomous and self-conscious androids with emotional ranges to match mine were developed would they be a good choice as a friend? Up into my late teens I was a “hide my light” kind of kid. But I slowly opened up and even college was mostly a sleeper. However, what would a friendship be like with “someone” who could learn, understand, and apply an idea in a minuscule fraction of the time it takes me, if I do it at all? Before her death a woman lived and traveled several years with me. We were seamlessly matched, often deeply engaged in cooperative conversations into dawn of the next day. Of course, those acquaintances and relatives cited earlier presumed it was mainly sexual. As the saying goes, When you know only a hammer everything’s a nail.

I suspect some people with android friends may have a problem reconciling the onset of aging in themselves while the android is, physically, just as originally assembled. And, as the human mental function declines we might see the android having to ascend to a caretaker role. After all, we see versions of this play out in human to human relationships; one partner’s performance declines while the other remains basically vigorous. Unless you have a Galapagos tortoise or certain species of parrot for pets you experience similar disparities with your pets.

I have to cut this short for today. The toaster has plans.

Destabilized

                                           Destabilized

                                      by Marco M. Pardi

Remember, behind every silver lining, there’s a dark cloud.” George Carlin.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

This piece arises from an exchange of comments on the previous piece, particularly those of Austin and Julie. Specifically, the comments suggested an ongoing evolution of technology leading to a significant break with forms of human communication employed to this point. This theme has been growing in strength for some time; we nod knowingly when someone tells us even young children are so absorbed in their devices – Iphones, Ipads, and other technology enabling social media communication that they have either forgotten or never gained actual social skills. And, a great deal of space has been given to discussions of what appears to be the growing incivility of these electronically based communications.

Let’s assume for the moment the exchanges, especially on social media, have become cruder and more virulent. (While I’m sure many readers would say, “But of course they have” we might consider those readers may not have known the kids I knew so long ago. The same vulgarity, indeed the same vocabulary has been around for a long time.) Some blame this purported increase in vulgarity directed personally on the anonymity offered by screen names, and some say it is a general change in the culture. In some ways this controversy raises the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: Different languages produce different ways of thinking. For Sapir-Whorf to be relevant we would need to stipulate that the language employed by people using electronic means is somehow a different language or, at least, a form which forces or facilitates a different way of thinking. As mentioned above, I see no measurable difference in thinking. If there is a difference to be found it is in the willingness to express one’s thoughts.

But this raises another parallel. We have elsewhere considered the ageless question, Did crazy Johnny go off to war, or did war make Johnny crazy? Has there been a large reservoir of nasty people just waiting for an anonymous medium through which they could express their nastiness? Or, did the appearance of such a medium make some people nasty?

Although born in the early 1940’s, my command of American English flowered in the 1950’s. I well remember the proscriptions, especially in mass media, against saying certain words: pregnant was “in a family way” or, racier, “expecting”; menstruation was “time of the month”; and, at least one newscaster pronounced helicopter as heelicopter. Apparently it was too close to a forbidden word. Even common words could be problematic. An example comes from the exquisite 1932 Packard Twelve automobile with driver adjustable suspension via a plunger in the dashboard. An engraved plaque above the plunger read: IN-HARD : OUT-SOFT. That plaque lasted only slightly longer than the act it suggested.

Times seemed to be changing, however, when I entered the Air Force in January of ’61. While marching my Flight (85 men) across the training base I heard my WAF (Women in the Air Force) counterparts loudly berating their marching Flights with, “There’s ten thousand swingin’ dicks on this base and you ain’t gonna’ get a one less’en you get in step!!” Or, “When those left feet hit the ground I wanna’ hear them pussies suck air!!” Do young women even know these words? Colorful. Intimidating. But for some reason I just couldn’t match those inspiring words. Nor could I work up the nerve to even say Hello to my female counterparts. Since we often halted our Flights right next to each other outside the mess hall I had the opportunity to speak to the WAF Flight Commanders. But, I felt I would probably need my teeth for the meal. Still, I never took their attitude personally. Probably a good thing since on one of my assignments I had a colleague/part-time girl friend who was a British WRAC (Women’s Royal Army Corps). Born and raised in London’s notorious East End, she was lovely in a lithe but deadly sort of way. And, when even slightly irked, she would emit an unbroken, non-repeating string of words that would dull a porcupine’s quills at 50 meters.

But really, with the general loosening up just starting with Hugh Hefner’s ongoing manifestos in Playboy magazine (begun in the ’50’s), Lenny Bruce (convicted in 1964 of obscenity in speech), George Carlin (Seven Dirty Words), and Richard Pryor media began reflecting what was daily speech for many. Not only is the term pregnant acceptable now, the afternoon soap operas will show you how to get there. So, are the media catching up with culture change, or are the media driving culture change?

I’m not convinced that merely knowing the words leads to using the words. My vocabulary is fairly extensive and I sometimes arrange terms in unusual ways. In the military I occasionally heard two airmen square off in a contest known as the “Dirty Dozens”. Essentially, one throws an insult at the other. The other responds with a deeper level of insult. As a crowd gathers, which it invariably did, the insults fly back and forth until one speaker could not match or exceed the last insult of the other speaker. The outdone speaker then yielded, although the reaction of the crowd ratified the winner. Even though the two participants were nearly nose to nose no fists got thrown, and generally the insults drew huge laughs, even from the participants. And that was basically the point. The participants were playing to the audience to see who could score the best laugh line at the expense of the other. There were no vicious attacks in those laugh lines. Situation defused.

One interesting feature of these contests was that unusually foul language and actual name calling rarely occurred. In fact, the person who was truly in the wrong may emerge as the winner simply by the finesse of language implying authority and correctness. But winner was a relative term as most observers knew who was at fault.

I try hard to avoid the flame thrower exchanges I see on social media sites. I feel I do not gain anything from spending my time with them; on the contrary, they demean me as an audience member. And I have zero tolerance for the Argumentum ad Hominem tactic so often used: even relatively poorly educated Dirty Dozens combatants rarely reduced themselves to that level.

Undeniably we are exposed to and therefore aware of changes in the communication patterns we see around us. But the willingness to use foul and aggressive language has long been there. Yes, finger flick media devices, especially when registered to absurd “screen names” enable the proliferation of foul, aggressive, and even a sort of primitive communication. But providing the means is different from providing the motivation.

On other sites I have encountered people who embody the worst of the hiding sniper. I once informed a site manager that a particular comment, being clearly libelous, could bring a law suit against a site even if the person who posted the comment could not be identified. The comment was quickly withdrawn. But again, I just do not find this new. More frequent, certainly, but not new.

Is our communication pattern changing toward a more abrupt, even primitive level? I can see it narrowing. I assigned written papers in my classes. Most were submitted from a word processing program. Few were handed in written. Not thinking much about it I wrote, in longhand, comments on the papers before handing them back. One student startled me by coming up and asking me to read my comments to him. He explained that he had not been taught how to read cursive. Do they not teach that in primary school anymore. Did he get through high school like this? Is a printed name a legal signature? Does anyone care?

Some have expressed concern that our electronic communications are narrowing our speech patterns, therefore possibly our thinking patterns. Many media limit characters; Twitter is a good example. I’m not much into electronic social media, despite this blog. I barely know how to use MyFace and Your Tube and will never use Twitter or Instagram. But writing is not language. Writing is the recording of language. And, this too is nothing new. In various intelligence operations one strictly observes the communications protocol, especially when transmitting over un-encrypted media: brief and precise. That’s been around since smoke signals. But that does not mean the intelligence operative conducts everyday conversations in such ways. Granted, I’ve known some ex-military who try to do this, but they just haven’t grown up.

In my schooling I was taught Latin was the most efficient Western language. It had the most stand-alone morphemes capable of conveying a complete idea. A modern language study was carried out by University of Lyon researchers François Pellegrino, Christophe Coupé, and Egidio Marsico using English, French, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Mandarin, and German. They listened to speakers reading aloud at their normal cadence and devised formulas for determining “information rate” per syllable. Surprisingly, English came out on top, with Japanese a distant last place.

Looking back at screen names reminds of the inside names given to Presidents. Most people are aware of Secret Service designations for each President. But within the “7th floor” crowd at the Central Intelligence Agency one hears far more amusing designations: John F. Kennedy was “Mattress Jack”. Guess who is “Tweety Bird”.

Seeing Things

                                                                Seeing Things

                                                            By Marco M. Pardi

                                                                 mpardi.com

“As a rule we perceive what we want to perceive…The unexpected is usually not received at all. It is not seen or heard, but ignored. Or it is misunderstood.” Peter F. Drucker

1974

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply.

A few nights ago a Cosmically insignificant event occurred: a tiny speck of dirty rock, variegated with water and gasses, completed another orbit around its mediocre star.  There is no evidence the Cosmos noted this event.  Nor is there evidence any but one of the multitude of living species residing on this speck noticed.  Not all members of the one species that did notice, the apex predator/parasite species, marked the occasion the same way though many of them shared one behavioral characteristic.  Many continued their efforts to fend off death by quick attack or slow starvation. Others continued their efforts to bring about death through quick attack or slow starvation.  Many gathered in groups to participate in ritualized behavior such as counting down the dropping of a ball or watching fireworks climbing into the skies. And almost all in this world wide group shared the characteristic of mentally displacing themselves into an imagined better future while attending the possibility of being denied that future by bullets or bombs provided by the previous year’s terrorist, military, paramilitary, or police groups.

What I find interesting is the perception that New Year’s Day is some kind of religious event or, perhaps, simply an event generated as an artifact of the calendar.   No religion can claim this day.  In fact, no calendar can claim its parentage. It is simply one of countless trillions of such events constantly occurring throughout the Cosmos, from aeons before the advent of the Apex Predator on this speck to long after this ignorant, self absorbed creature destroys itself, taking most or all fellow species with it.  

I was pondering this in the days leading up to and surrounding this yearly event as I underwent surgeries to remove occluded lenses from my eyes. The surgeries themselves did not clarify what was in my mind. But the “down time” provided time for thought, especially as I chose “monovision” for my new lenses. But I’ll explain.

Ordinarily there are 5 levels of possible lens implants one may choose from. And, two options I’ll explain in a moment. I chose the implant level which puts a lens for close up – reading, computer, seeing what you’re kissing, etc. – in one eye and a lens for distance – driving, avoiding people before they see you, and shooting someone who otherwise had a chance to flee – in the other eye.  The options offered were: lenses that enable X-ray vision to see through everyone’s clothes; or, lenses that ensured you would see everything your wife’s way.

Not anticipating a position with the TSA, I declined the first option. The second one, marketed as “Domestic Tranquility”, was briefly tempting but I also declined that. Mustn’t let my powers of deception atrophy.

The first of the two procedures was preceded by an interview which felt more appropriate to a heart transplant. The nurse asked questions such as, “Do you have any anxiety about the surgery?”  “What, you mean about some masked guy coming at my eye with a knife? Gosh, no. Happens every day.” Perhaps she read something into that; the propofol was injected into my IV tube out of my sight. So, I was here. Then I was here. “Where’d everybody go?” I didn’t get to count down. I didn’t get to see the fluid go in the tube. I had no idea how much time had passed. Perhaps worst of all, I had no idea where I was relative to the mediocre star we call “The Sun”.

And so, as I weaved my way out of the hospital with a mini colander taped over the first eye operated on I began to ponder the importance we place on the passage of time.  Some aspects of the recovery period did take time to adjust. Things like the first few mornings awakening with that colander and fearing that overnight I had begun morphing into THE FLY.  After the second procedure my mind is still adjusting to clear vision in one eye and blurry vision in the other, depending on the distance I am from an object.

But my mind’s eye is also looking at the transition from “last year” to “this year”. What’s the big deal? In recent years I’ve been around increasingly fewer people, and those people are older.  My brother is still 3 ½ years older, and it seems unlikely I’ll catch up. So, I’m hearing far fewer New Year’s resolutions. These always amused me.  It seems to me that if there’s one sure way to drag the past around with you it’s the resolution to change in the future. You have identified something in the past that displeased you, so you march into the future with Mr Past Monkey on your back, always chattering in your ear to not do or to do something relevant to the past. I wrote in an earlier piece the example of the two monks and the girl crossing a muddy street: “I put her down on the other side. It is you who are still carrying her.”

Certainly some resolutions do some good. If nothing else, they fill in the days.  I’ve heard several end-stage patients describe the last days as “just passing time”.  But what happens when efforts to enact the resolutions fail?  In the interim between college and graduate school I worked briefly with a State agency charged with rehabilitating incarcerated minors convicted of crimes, not just awaiting trial.  One particular young man could truly have been a “textbook case”.  Serving yet another in a string of sentences, this time in a maximum security juvenile lock-up, he told me of the many times he had resolved to change his ways. But his monkey had him by the throat. Every time he did even something minor, as in putting a pen that wasn’t his in his pocket he jumped all the way to the conclusion he was a born criminal, and he acted out on that conclusion.

Another insight came from a former colleague, an Anthropologist at SAMHSA – Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. She told me caseworkers and therapists had begun trying to break the deeply held notion that success in fighting addiction was measured as total and ongoing abstinence. SAMHSA had come to realize this was counter-productive in the same way that young man’s inflexibility was throwing him into a deadly game of Either/Or. People will “slip, fall off the wagon” or whatever you want to call it. The issue was not whether one falls; it’s whether one gets up.

And, I’ve often seen what I felt was an egocentric view of the world and its events. Western culture worships personal responsibility, it is characterized as a “guilt culture” versus a “shame culture”. That is, the individual, the guilty party, must be identified. It rejects the influence of the surrounding culture and certainly “The Fates”.  A discourse of Fate versus Free Will would be, even for me, unbearable here.  

And so, when I hear a person declaring a New Year’s resolution I wonder what they will do and how they will feel when they do not live up to it.  I suppose I’m fortunate in never having been a resolution person. Analysts can make of that what they will. Perhaps low self esteem caused me to predict my own failure.  Perhaps high self esteem caused me to be overly self-forgiving.  Or maybe I was always lazy.

I would resolve to keep writing this blog, or maybe not. Tomorrow is another day. No use dragging today into it. As the saying goes, When you stand with one foot in the past and one foot in the future you wind up pissing on the present. With my better eyesight now, I hope to keep my shoes dry.

 

Mary

                                                                        Mary

                                                           by Marco M. Pardi

                                                                  mpardi.com

“There is a unity of the body with the environment, as well as a unity of the body and soul into one person.” Alfred North Whitehead. (1861-1947)

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All comments are well appreciated and will receive a response.

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Readers of this site who peruse the comments will recognize the name Mary.  She has been a consistent, thoughtful and very generous commentator.  Even while traveling she made the effort to assure me she was reading my words and thinking them through.  Her comments almost always contributed to and enhanced what I had written, on any subject. In personal communication she carried much further, providing her thoughts and opinions in ways which were always supportive even if, at times, advising me of better ways of thinking than I had chosen for myself.

An Anthropology student of mine in the early 1970’s, Mary was one of several thousand such students who passed through my classes in my ten years at a particular college.  Some I remember, most I don’t.

Since those years I have traveled much of the world, so deeply involved in other careers that it was not long before I began to occasionally recall those teaching years as, “Oh. Yeah” memories; factual but not very meaningful.  And communication, even had I sought it, with anyone from those years would have been near impossible and, in most circumstances, impermissible.

So it was with surprise, and some trepidation, that I opened an email some years ago to discover that I had been discovered. Mary had found me. On the Internet.  There was nothing challenging in the content, only a self identification and questions only I could answer. And by some fortune I did choose to answer.

In the years since we exchanged countless emails and added additional email correspondents into a fairly steady group.  Mary became a highly sought after thinker in at least a couple of these groups. We very much enjoyed her reports of her constant travels, her impressions of people and places, her joys and travails with her dogs. I often urged her to start writing a blog.

But in the background was a career history that few people knew.  Mary did not pursue Anthropology. However, she took some principles from it and applied them to degrees and a career in Social Work.  Her work immersed her in many of the human tragedies that lead so many social workers to leave the field and not look back.  She not only stayed with it, she married a psychologist, raised a family, and helped found a clinic. Through several geographic moves she also acquired and raised a variety of dogs, most of whom could be described as Special Needs dogs.

But her inherent nurturing of non-humans and humans alike found many expressions and, at times, some quandaries.  In one set of email exchanges she sent me pictures of a mountain lion lounging on her Colorado property waiting for her dogs to come outside.  Concerned for the dogs, but also for the lion, she asked how to permanently scare it away without hurting it. I told her that her only safe option was a Taurus Judge .410 shotgun revolver and I instructed her in how to load the cylinder in a graduated non-lethal to lethal way.  As far as I know she did so and solved the problem. But then a rat took up residence inside a storeroom in her house.  She set up a game camera and sent videos of the rat doing ratty things in the storeroom.  Again, how to evict the rat harmlessly?  I told her once a rat has found a nice place they will not give it up.  She captured the rat a couple of times in a humane live trap and transported it miles from her home before releasing it.  A few night later it was back. To be sure it was the same rat she again trapped it and painted its tail before driving miles to release it.  A few days later, a painted rat in the storeroom.  I’m not sure how or if she resolved the rat problem but it was starting to look like our negotiations with North Korea.

Mary was raised a conservative Catholic. As such she had an appreciation for many of the manifestations of cognitive dissonance among people whose faith puts them in one world while they live in another. She appreciated the aphorism that: Man invented God, made this God omnipresent, then failed to see God all around and within themselves.  Below is a typical email from Mary which I think captures her personhood quite well:

“I’ve been so busy and traveling I have forgotten what I have told you about.  I know I have been derelict contributing to the email group. I understand if my membership is revoked.  I think I told you both in May we had a 4ft snow storm.  I saw something in the snow and checked it out.  It was a hummingbird, who I was pretty sure was dead.  Let me switch gears here a moment. I was just in Florida with my cousin who was talking about how she feels we haven’t scratched the surface in seeing animals in nature.  She said, like the videos we all most likely have seen now where they have glasses for people who are colored blind and see colors for the first time.  They cry and ask how people who can see real colors can get anything done and just not stare at the colors all day. She thinks some day we will see animals like that.  So, back to the hummingbird.  I held it in my hands warming it up and sure enough it came back to life.  When it seemed fully resurrected I went outside and opened my hand.  It looked me right in the eye and then flew off.  I sit on my deck around sunset daily.  Every day, since the humming bird left, when I’m sitting on the deck he comes and flies right at my eyes and hovers a bit then takes off.  I’ve been gone for about a week.  When I got home yesterday I sat on the deck and unbelievably, I’m sure it is the same hummingbird, came and sat on my thigh.  It had to have sat there for almost 5 minutes.  I’m sure I’m colored blind to what happens in nature but now and again, I’m not.” 

Mary’s sudden death is still a great shock – and this comes from a person very familiar with death.  It is hard even to write this as I will post it and part of me will look daily for her comments.  No matter where she was or what she was doing she always took time to post some comments.  When I started teaching college classes all those decades ago I quickly realized the difference between talking to someone and talking with someone. Many people read these posts, very few bother themselves to talk with me. Mary always did.  To the extent that we are in some way the people with whom we interact I feel an empty space inside. I have felt that before, and long ago realized one does not seek out a “replacement part” to fill that space. One remembers that person and carries forward the lessons and benefits of having known them, thus making ongoing relationships with others that much more fulfilling and rewarding for all.

Thank you, Mary.

Thanks Given

                                                               Thanks Given

                                                           by Marco M. Pardi

“Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure.”

Tacitus. (CE 56?-120?)

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All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

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Those of you familiar with American holidays know we just passed through Thanksgiving – or it passed through us.  Or, wait a minute, maybe that was Black Friday. It’s sometimes hard to remember what to celebrate in a society which conflates consumerism with happiness.

This year I’ve noticed a great increase in the frequency of people asking, “What are you thankful for?” The most egregious example came from the White House press secretary when, during a daily briefing, she demanded that each member of the press corps with a question preface their question with a statement of what they were thankful for. I might have said I would be thankful for the truth, but understood it was not to be found here.

Even the gaggle of newscasters and television talk show hosts parrot this question and respond with maudlin replies from their little worlds. I suspect the very marked increase this year reflects the sense of helplessness and resignation as the once good American society is finally and admittedly lost to the Fascist regime which seized power last November. The replies portray a desperate search for something pleasant in an overwhelmingly unpleasant reality.

But I always had problems with the What are you thankful for question.  The term thankful implies, to me, a specific entity as the recipient of the thanks. Most if not all of my life I have viewed everything holistically; isolating something as an autonomous entity is artificial, incomplete, and misleading. I recognize that we do this, but only for the sake of establishing order in what otherwise would be our chaotic mind. So, when someone asks my views on gratitude to God, I say the question is irrelevant; something which is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient is everything at once, hence it is no thing and cannot even be referred to much less thanked. I could more easily thank Orgasma von Klampitt who, some sixty years ago, introduced me to all things carnal. I suspect she would respond with, Who are you?

Perhaps I should send my thanks further back.  Thank you, Big Bang, for exploding outward some 14 billion years ago, sending energy into nothingness in a gigantic pinball game that, in one infinitesimally tiny area of space eventually resulted in the collision of a sperm cell and an egg from which came me. I’m not ready to render thanks for all that came afterward, the jury is still out on that. And there have even been times when I questioned the wisdom of blowing yourself up in the first place (and I do mean first place). 

I think a lot may have happened in those 14 billion years.  Since quantum mechanics teaches us to view existence in probabilities and potentials, was (am) I in there somewhere?  We sometimes tell children they were once a “twinkle in your daddy’s eye”.  Was I a twinkle in some supernova?

But look, here we are, slogging through life like inchworms on a flat and finite plane unable to look back for origins or look ahead to the exact day we fall off.  Yet, completely out of context we attribute causes and declare effects pronouncing some to be thankful for and others bad luck. Does that make a shred of sense?  Is it any wonder so many people are fully embedded in the “It’s all about me!” mentality? I didn’t think so.

It seems to me that gratitude, thankfulness, whatever you want to call it is, if it is realized in the fullness of context, remarkably like the triple omni concept of God:  Omni-present means there is nothing it is not in, so there is no sense in conceiving of it since the act of conceiving of it immediately isolates it into whatever it is you think it is and disregards the rest. When I look at how certain events in my life unfolded I can say with certainty I did not set them in motion (and that’s as well for “good” and “bad”); thinking otherwise, when realized in full context, awards me the power of omnipotence. It also suggests I did so fully knowingly, giving me the power of omniscience.  

How much of our lives is our own doing and how much the doing of other people, factors, etc.?  For untold generations people have treated maladies as something the affected persons brought on themselves. Worse yet, I’ve heard people declare birth defects in newborns as divine justice for some imagined transgression of the parents.  Cancer patients faced suspicion that some behavior, smoking, drinking, etc. caused them to “get” cancer.  It must have been allowed in from the outside. Our language still betrays these biases: What’s gotten into you? What’s eating you?

But attitudes are changing, if only slowly.  A few years ago I had a run of atrial fibrillation with tachycardia.  I went to a hospital emergency room.  While addressing the issues the physician asked my academic and career background. He then asked me, “What’s going on? I have six patients of various ages with symptoms just like yours.”

I reminded him we were in the midst of a violent solar storm and, the heart being a largely electrical device, I was not surprised at possible effects from the incoming solar electric activity. We considered that and I promised to do a retrospective analysis of the MMWR (Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report) for the appropriate weeks to determine any statistical spikes in reported cardiac issues.  Indeed, I did the analysis and found that, unfortunately, sub-lethal cardiac events were not recorded. And, I could find no cardiac lethality rate exceeding standard deviation.

Yet, I well remember chronic episodes of these symptoms when stationed in places where, for instance, air pollution was profound or where I was at great altitude.  I do not recall deciding to spend the day gasping as my heart leapt randomly around my chest or my pulse stuck at 160 beats per minute. 

I recently read that one of the survivors of the Las Vegas mass shooting was later run over and killed by a hit and run driver.  I’m sure some people would say Death tried and missed in Vegas but got him in the end. Others would say, No, he was not supposed to die in Vegas. His death was supposed to be a life changing event for the driver of the car that hit him.  These are inch worms some of us know; they are the ones who look at the present and extrapolate the past, complete with “plans” and events to be thankful for.  Commonly we hear, “It was God’s plan.” And we hear that from the very same people who assure us it is impossible to know the mind of God.

Some people express gratitude for longevity. My impression is they haven’t yet gotten old enough to experience being old.  Most of the truly old people I’ve known spent their last years saying they would be thankful when it’s over.

For me, a person who is thankful for extra years is simply a person who mistakenly presumed they were supposed to already be dead.  There’s no one to thank. There is, however, someone (the thankful person) who needs to re-examine the quality of their thinking.

So feel free to call me an ingrate.  I won’t thank you for it, but neither will I blame you.  I am, however, thankful for any and all your comments.